Today I'm so happy to share the gorgeous paintings of Tel-Aviv-based artist Refael Salem, whose touching works are inspired by poetry and fantasy, and the constant struggles between man and emotion, and the world at large. He studied art at Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem, and has been exploring topics of male identity and sense of being. I love the dashes of color and the revealing brush strokes, adding an atmosphere to these canvases that bring his subjects to life.
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YS: You're work presents beautiful and candid moments that seem very personal. Can you tell me a bit about your work?
RS: My work is typically influenced by fantasy & legend as an overall feel; the paintings themselves deal with youth, intimacy, fears and anxieties – issues I deal with on a personal level related to my social interactions and sexual identity. You will often notice a contrast between the characters emotions and the surrounding atmosphere, which is meant to emphasize the struggles and fragility of man vs. the world. In other works I focus only on a specific character.
One thing that was really important for me, is to develop my own unique language in terms of subject and technique so that my paintings would become identifiable on their own and stand out to people who know me.
What is your process like? How do you get started on painting, and how long does it typically take you to finish?
I actually do most of the work even before I take out the paint and brush – a big part of it happens in my head, analyzing the feelings or situations that inspire me. Then I build a collage of possible characters and places as a sketch to see how it works and finally I draw the sketch on a canvas and start painting. Overall – a painting could be in the planning for a few weeks even, but the actual painting usually takes 2 – 3 days.
What is your favorite or most fulfilling thing about being an artist?
Realizing I captured a moment the way I wanted too, when I look at a finished painting is the first thrill for me (sometimes it can come long before the painting is done – which makes it even better). Then, obviously exhibiting a painting which is the highest praise I think for an artist.
Is there anything that you know now that you wish you would have known as a beginning art student?
One thing I guess I was surprised to learn along the way, is that it’s not enough to “just do my art” - making a name for yourself and getting people to notice the work often requires talking in public as well as marketing and sales skill that you need to acquire along the way in order to grow.
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